A Summary of Saint Paul’s Teaching on Justification:
1. Paul uses the word ‘alone’ more than any other New Testament writer, many usages appearing in the very context which speak of faith and justification, but never as a qualifier or description of faith. For Paul, faith carries far too much meaning and implications to be limited by the word ‘alone.’ The only time Scripture couples the word ‘faith’ with the word ‘alone’ is in the Epistle of James (2:24) where it is specified we are not justified by faith alone.
2. When Paul says that man cannot be justified by works or through the law, he is referring to any and all works done by man, not merely certain kinds of works. These works include moral, civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament as well as any such laws in the present age.
3. Paul teaches that because of the principle of obligation, man cannot be justified by works. Doing works, outside the realm of grace, attempts to obligate God to pay the worker. If God is obligated to pay the worker, then the relationship is one based on strict, legal contract; not on grace. God, because he is the Creator and perfect, man, who is the creature and imperfect, cannot place God in a position of legal obligation.
4. Paul teaches that works, under the auspices of God’s grace, do indeed justify the individual. Paul teaches that through God’s grace he can accept the faith and works of the individual for the purposes of salvation. Passages in the New Testament that speak of works being judged with a view toward gaining eternal life are not hypothetical.
5. Faith is placed in opposition to works by Paul since faith is used to represent a personal, grace-based relationship with God whereas works are used to represent a contractual, non-grace relationship. Faith is the element of human volition which recognizes and acknowledges God’s grace and thus it is the first element that establishes our relationship to God.
6. Paul teaches that we fulfill the law, and are justified through obedience to the law, by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
7. Although Paul tells us to model our behavior on the law, he has the intent of law, or the higher purpose of the law, in view. On the other hand, he is adamant against the legalistic obedience.
8. Scripture teaches that within the system of grace, the individual must please God by his faith and obedience. If he does not please God, then he cannot be saved. God is the sole judge of whether we have pleased him.
9. Scripture teaches that God gives gracious merit to individuals who have pleased him, and he will graciously reward them with eternal life for their faith and obedience – not from obligation but from his sheer benevolence to those who earnestly seek him.
10. Faith is the beginning of salvation. Each person that comes to God must first believe that he exists and is the source of all goodness and blessing.
11. All men are sinners in the eyes of God and in order to receive salvation it is necessary that all men be redeemed through the atoning work of Christ.
12. Christ did not take on himself the guilt and punishment required of man for sin, since hell itself is the ultimate punishment for sin. Rather, Christ became a propitiatory sacrifice in order to appease the wrath of God against sin. In this way, he opens the floodgates of grace and makes it possible for every man to attain salvation.
13. God’s grace, through anticipation of the atonement of Christ in the New Testament, was made available to those in the Old Testament, and thus they could be saved in the say way as we may be today. As regards their relationship to God, those in the Old Testament were to understand the ultimate purpose of the law in the same way we are to understand it today.
14. Through the measure of grace God gives each individual believer, he expects that the believer will exercise that grace by continuing to believe in God despite the circumstantial experiences of life that may cast doubt on God’s integrity. In this regard, Abraham is one of the greatest examples of faith in the Scripture and one on whom we should model our own faith in order to be justified.
15. Paul teaches that faith must express itself through love in order to effectuate justification. The qualities and requirements for genuine love are specified throughout Scripture.
– Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone –
– Lucas G. Westman